TV viewership not like that of yesteryear

Published 8:00 pm Sunday, April 22, 2012

I was passing by a friend’s computer the other day and he happened to be watching a video clip from the old “Dallas” television show where the answer to infamous question, “Who shot J.R.?,” was revealed.

     In my mind, I was taken back to my early days growing up in Vicksburg in the late 1970s and early ’80s.

     The “Who shot J.R.?” cliffhanger was such a significant television moment that seemingly everyone was talking about it. Or at least interested in knowing who did do the TV show deed.

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     I remember seeing many “I shot J.R.” bumper stickers on vehicles during that time. I think Mom even had one on her car.

     Since then, I can think of few regularly scheduled television events that have so captured the viewing public’s imagination. A then-record 83 million people watched the episode. (The final episode of M*A*S*H eclipsed in it in 1983.)

     Aside from the Super Bowl, which is actually a sporting event, I think any show would have a hard time these days repeating such a viewing accomplishment.

     One reason for that, I believe, is that viewership now is so fragmented that far fewer people actually watch any television show in “real time” these days.

     Among the options available to allow people to watch television on their own schedules are DVRs, computer tablet apps like Hulu or those from the networks and, of course, Netflix. Some cost the viewer money and some do not.

     Because viewing options are so diverse and viewer-specific these days, I sometimes wonder how broadcast networks determine whether a program is a “hit.” I know the Nielson ratings have adjusted for DVR viewership trends, but I’m still perplexed at how some shows survive from one season to the next.

     Like February and early March are for marginal college teams looking to make the NCAA Basketball Tournament, now is the time that some television shows are considered “on the bubble.” Some entertainment-oriented websites have “Bubble Watch” or similar polls that either allow viewer input or offer some other insight on shows that may or may not return.

     I won’t offer any opinions on what I think should return or be gone because, frankly, we all have our own likes and dislikes.

     I think I’m the only person who watches “Shark Tank” on ABC. In it, entrepreneurs try to convince a panel of self-made millionaire “sharks” to invest in their business, product or whatever.

     Despite its seemingly high-minded financial investment premise, I find “Shark Tank” one of the funniest shows on television. The greed and stupidity on display by some of the delusional entrepreneurs is mind-boggling and I love it when the sharks call them out.

     “Shark Tank” was a mid-season replacement again this year and I hope it at least survives in that form next year.

     I know there won’t be a next year for some shows I have faithfully watched over the years. USA’s “In Plain Sight,” about a federal marshal supervising folks in the federal witness protection program, won’t be back and neither will the women of Wisteria Lane in ABC’s “Desperate Housewives.”

     But for every “In Plain Sight,” I’ve found there’s always something new to come along and fill the viewing void.

     Ironically, one show that will get my attention at least initially will be “Dallas.” J.R. and other members of the Ewing clan – all older and whether wiser is yet to be seen – will return this summer, this time on TNT.

     Looks like J.R.’s done pretty well in the aftermath of that bullet from Kristin, his mistress and sister-in-law.

     That’s all for now.

     Write to Managing Editor Matthew Coleman at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven MS 39602, or send e-mail to